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Higher Education Watch
As Adjuncts Proliferate, University Presidents See Rising Paychecks

As low-paid adjuncts shoulder more and more of universities’ teaching responsibilities, those at the top of the academic pecking order are seeing their paychecks grow steadily. The Christian Science Monitor reports that private college presidents earned a 5.6 percent raise, on average, in 2014 (to a total average salary of $436,429), and that the colleges with the highest share of adjunct professors tend to pay their presidents the most. More:

“Adjunct” is a term used for non-tenured, part-time professors, who receive no benefits, no office and typically paid between $3,000 and $5,000 per course. In 2013, NPR reported that these itinerant teachers make up 75 percent of college professors, and their pay averages between $20,000 and $25,000 annually. And this trend may be long term, as three in four college professors are not on a tenure track, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) reports. […]

The private colleges with the highest-paid presidents also have the highest percentage of adjunct professors.

A 2014 study by the Institute for Policy Studies found a similar trend among schools with the highest paid presidents: part-time adjunct faculty increased 22 percent faster than the national average.

The modern American university is typical of what we call the blue model world. It is organized around outmoded policies—generous federal subsidies, tenure-for-life, extensive regulation—that worked well for decades (and still works well today, for the privileged few who are on the right track, like tenured faculty), but which is growing increasingly difficult to sustain. Today, free-flowing student loans drive up costs and administrative salaries, the tenure-for-life system limits universities’ ability to shift professors and resources around, and extensive government regulation and mandates force universities to hire presidents who have more in common with CEOs than with educators. Universities are trying to adapt to these challenges both by contracting out more and more teaching work to adjuncts to cut costs and by hiring top-flight presidents-cum-executives to try to allocate scarce resources (and appease various campus political interests), all without really altering the underlying structure of higher education. And like other unreformed vestiges of the blue model (i.e., public sector unions), this system is contributing to unfairness and inequality. Just ask the adjuncts living on food stamps.

Policymakers and university administrators need to start implementing reforms that would make this system more fair, to students and faculty alike. Tenure and research designations should become rarer and harder to get, so that the large majority of college faculty would be paid primarily as teachers—but compensated fairly, unlike adjuncts. More introductory courses should be available through MOOCs to bring down costs. Federal accreditation requirements and other regulations should be loosened, and federal loan programs should be reined in so as to stop propping up institutions that aren’t equipping students with the skills they need.

The data on adjunct compensation, especially as compared with administrator salaries, underlines the fact that in some ways, our universities really are bastions of exploitation—just not in the way the campus Jacobins may think. Fixing the system will require wholesale changes to the structure of higher education, not the addition of a few diversity centers. On the bright side, the illiberalism coursing through the academy might highlight to policymakers the desperate need for reform.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Time for adjuncts (and TAs) to unionize???

    • Episteme

      I’m reminded of the joking dialogue back and forth in my history graduate program (an M.A. track) between the ‘American History’ students who do a purely-research focus segueing into a Ph.D versus the Public History students who split research and practical material (including internship requirements) as a terminal masters – we public history guys joke about our field at least having the POTENTIAL of jobs out there if one’s creative about it…

      The other week, a professor was talking about the side work he was doing interviewing about 450 candidates for a single opening in the department. Suddenly, one student in the seminar shot her head up and shouted, “that’s it, I’m switching to Public History!”

      (in terms of the adjunct/tenure question, I don’t know if unionizing is the answer, since it just creates another unchangeable contract issue – I’ve started to wonder if tenure should be done in renewable terms, but I’m not sure how to deal with controls over the same sort of politics every X-number-of-years rather than just constantly)

      • FriendlyGoat

        What “needs to be done” is compensation that is NOT “two-tier” with too much salary, perks, job security and kingly status given to a few and only scraps given to the rest of the instructional staff. Absolutely, a closed-shop union to which all instructors would be required belong would get the job done. The would-be killers of the “blue model” will be taking you precisely the wrong way on this subject, of course.

        • Jim__L

          Teachers do have unions. The Teachers Union is one of the most powerful lobbies in California. And yet, they seem to do a whole lot more Social Leftism than actual bringing home the bacon for teachers.

          FG, drop the social leftism. You know it’s wrong, and it’s a major distraction and obstacle to anything done.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I actually believe in “social leftism” as I define it in my comments.
            Since I don’t copy out of HuffPo, please don’t paint me as one of the clones of capital-S, Capital-L Social Leftism, okay?

          • Jim__L

            I simply don’t see the distinction you do. Your values on major issues are certainly more in line with HuffPo than with Christianity. Look, I don’t like to say it so directly, but it’s true. Your positions on social issues are Leftist, and not informed by the Christ’s teachings. It might be handy for you to head to church a bit more regularly to have your point of view challenged by people who see how the Law provides a conscience to society that discovers the love of God and expresses love of human life through the generations.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Well, Social Leftism once embraced Marx, to include the tactics of Lenin, Stalin and Mao. it once thought that they could nationalize by force all the means of production, that they could centrally plan the economy, that they could disparage religion and they could kill or imprison whoever got in the way. I have never agreed with any of that and I do not now.

            So, yeah, I’m a little bristled at your suggestions of what I am, what I believe, what I should “drop” and where I should go to be brain-washed by people who like the spirits of Limbaugh, Hannity, Cheney, Trump and Cruz better than they like the spirit of Pope Francis. Earlier in my life I spent a lot of time hanging around upside-down and backward stuff. Been there. Done that. Not going back. You can do whatever you wish.

  • Anthony

    I read a statement years ago: “American education resembles American health care. Each serves a purpose that is crucial to the life of the great majority of the nation’s citizens.” Yet, our reality remains general disappointment with the people who provide the services – What are we to do. Posts implies locating an incentive to effectively balance amount of resources (remuneration) with outcomes that are both effective and productive – how do we develop the human attitudes requisite for cited need?

  • FriendlyGoat

    TAI has described here PRECISELY the ridiculous results from its own recommendations to kill “the blue model”. Just as we have seen in the private sector, the income taxation on $436,429 average salaries has been reduced with the effect of those at the top, including often-far-richer board members, having utter disregard for everyone else working in the organization. There is no other way to explain colleges running with $20,000 to $25,000 instructional staff. Seriously, there isn’t. The board members absolutely do not give a damn about this absurd situation BECAUSE the actual workers have been stripped of any negotiating power, and their “betters” do not HAVE TO care.

    When you guys figure out how to kill the blue model AND get “teachers” and other workers elsewhere “paid fairly”, ya’ll get back to us, okay? You are endlessly arguing for destruction of all mechanisms which support the bargaining position of working people (in this case average college instructors), then giving empty lip service to regrets about the predictable effects of precisely what you recommended.
    Hint: You cannot disparage unions and worship high-end tax cuts and then expect “the free-market fairness fairy” to waltz in and fix things to equitable and sensible results. It never worked in the past and it never will in the future.

    • theresanursemom

      It’s not like all these administration higher-ups are publicly espousing conservative values…In fact, they take great pains to do the total opposite, and the leftist media generally leaves them be in utter contrast to the values they claim to hold dear. There is much fuel for cynicism to be found in this…

    • Tom

      “There is no other way to explain colleges running with $20,000 to $25,000 instructional staff. Seriously, there isn’t. The board members absolutely do not give a damn about this absurd situation BECAUSE the actual workers have been stripped of any negotiating power, and their “betters” do not HAVE TO care.”

      Sure there is, actually. The actual workers have almost never had any negotiating power in academia beyond the relatively rare skills they could bring to the table combined with the rising demand for college instructors in aftermath of World War II. What’s happened is a glut of Ph.ds combined with a slowdown in the growth of colleges and decisions by college boards to spend money on the bureaucracy and administration (which, by the way, are generally inhabited by leftists) (and the athletics, but at least these are often paid for by donors) instead of spending it on their instructors.
      This not the result of the destruction of the blue model; it is the cause.

      • FriendlyGoat

        A decent Board member will say he or she plans to compensate instructional staff in accordance with SOME respect for what the instructional staff does in a college—-AND—-will plan to short-fund “administration” accordingly and as needed. A Board member who votes in the $436,429 CEO salary and overlooks $20-25K adjuncts is a Board member not worth having anywhere.
        I’ll stick with my private theory that we have too many Board members who have personally been the beneficiaries of too many tax cuts for too many years, and, as a result, are disinterested in injecting sense into their institutions. I’m not saying it would be easy to go on a Board and buck the tide, but it needs to be done.

        • Tom

          I’m pretty sure that the behavior of board members would be similar with or without tax cuts.
          And let’s also face it, colleges are insulated from the consequences of their decisions, at least partially due to government mucking about in the system.
          There’s places where your usual critique, if misguided, has some explanatory power. This is not one of those places.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I’m not at all sure that the behavior of board members or anyone else in authority of anything “would be similar with or without tax cuts.”
            Thirty-five years of tax cuts have set nearly everything in our country “askew”. They have justified all kinds of ridiculous situations and I will stick with believing this is one of them. We overpay for the wrong manipulative “skill sets” and underpay everywhere else.

    • charlesrwilliams

      I am an adjunct. I reject the idea that adjuncts are treated unfairly. I am doing what I want to do at an agreed upon compensation. The people being exploited are the students and the taxpayers who are funding the farce of undergraduate education in the US. The exploiters are the administrators and the regulators. Tenured faculty are doing ok but their compensation has not reached outrageous levels. Some of them are doing useless pseudo-research in bogus fields but most are modestly paid and have comfortable and secure jobs.

      The problem is that vast sums of money are being squandered on an ineffective system that lacks clear goals and peddles meaningless credentials.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Would it be unfair of me to ask whether you are one of the adjuncts who has another career and teaches a few courses on the side or whether you are trying to make a full-time living only on “per-course” fees?

        • charlesrwilliams

          I have enough money to be an adjunct. My retirement is secure. I do not need to support myself totally on what I am paid. It was a choice I made with my wife after retiring early from a corporate job. People are responsible for their choices. If I had a PhD and was 32 with student loans, I would not consider doing this except as a temporary expedient.

          I guess my situation affects my attitude. It doesn’t affect my argument.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I’m glad you have this opportunity and there is nothing at all wrong with retirees, early retirees or other working professionals teaching a few courses on the side for per-course fees. The concern is for those younger would-be instructors who were trained for career teaching and find themselves on the equivalent of piece-work for life.

    • Jim__L

      FG… teachers ARE unionized. Simply, their unions are more interested in pushing the latest intellectual fad and protecting incompetent time-servers than they are in getting a good deal for teachers.

      • FriendlyGoat

        The college adjunct “teachers” are unionized? As for the K-12 teachers who are unionized, the main reason conservatives wish to bust their unions is to reduce the “good deals” those unions already negotiated.

  • Tom Chambers

    Instead of taking the blurbs about the NPR study at face value, It might be useful to ask, just what data did they collect and how critically did they evaluate it?

    Why so? My department has 3 or 4 adjunct professors–all unpaid. They all have regular jobs elsewhere and their motivation for adjunct professorship is some kind of collaborative relationship and the ability to participate in our graduate students’ advisory committees. I myself was offered an adjunct professorship at another university–also unpaid. I declined, but not because it was unpaid; it was more honorary than anything else. I’m sure this situation is not unusual at research universities. So how much do data points like these (adjuncts with no salary, no benefits) perturb the NPR-reported results?

    Adjuncts (from my probably outdated perspective) are not meant to be either permanent or full-time positions; and so they are not paid as though they were.

    • Tom

      From the perspective of new students, it is outdated.
      The problem is the issue of supply and demand. There is a glut of liberal arts Ph.ds on the market, and the demand for them is relatively low. When combined with a campus administration that is required to invest in diversity programs and and chooses to finance fancy recreation centers, living facilities, and athletics, this results in what might be called permanent adjunct status.

  • Corpus Crispy

    Adjuncts are a commodity – a seemingly inexhaustible supply, cheap to produce (at least for the universities), cheap to use, easily replaced. As for unionization, would a university have to shut down because intro anthropology, art history and communications classes weren’t being taught? Burger King doesn’t worry about strikes by cattle.

    I was offered an adjunct position once. I hadn’t taught a similar class since grad school. I realized that with preparation time included, I would have made less than minimum wage. No thanks.

    • Jim__L

      Probably the only use in teaching an adjunct class is beefing up your resume for a job that involves that subject. It’s a bit like having a certification for which you are paid instead of the other way around.

  • InklingBooks

    You know what’s sad about all this? Many of these abused and underpaid adjunct professors would make excellent high school teachers with better pay, more benefits, and a more stable income. Unlike many ed-school graduates, they know and love what they’d be teaching.

    Sadly, there’s a host of barriers that keep this from happening, not least of which are the teacher’s unions and certification rules.

    • Jim__L

      Not least of which being high school teachers get very little respect — they’re not considered part of the elite, they don’t necessarily live in college towns, and the people the teachers deal with every day (the kids they teach) aren’t as thrilled with the subject matter as the teachers are.

      Introducing some level of humility would help with the first, and something that made junior colleges a better focus of intellectual life would help a great deal with the second. To fix the third, I’m afraid the teachers are on their own.

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